Massachusetts Correctional Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy
Re-entry and integration of prisoners to society

Invited by Concord Prison Outreach
November 17, 2004
Trinitarian Congregational Church, Concord

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer

Click here for audio in .mp3 format

(Jean Bell and Diana Clymer have contributed oral histories about the founding of and activities of Concord Prison Outreach. They have worked with Kathleen Dennehy over her three decade career and her presentation to the residents of Concord provides context to the Commonwealth's administrative and program planning in correctional reform.)

-- Leading correctional department administrative staff and positions
-- Challenges of prison overcrowding
-- Inmate demographics
-- Type of crime
-- Re-entry challenges
-- Mental health considerations
-- Recommendations from the Governor's Commission on Correctional Reform
-- Remarks of Veronica Madden, Associate Commissioner of Corrections

Massachusetts Commissioner of Corrections Kathleen Dennehy, at the invitation of Concord Prison Outreach, addressed a capacity audience on prisoner re-entry and integration to society. The oral histories of Jean Bell and Diana Clymer, members and founders of Concord Prison Outreach, relate their work with the Concord Prison and have had a long association with Dennehy.

Introduction by Concord Prison Outreach Chair, Deanna Kohl -- When Kathleen Dennehy graduated from Wheaton College she had a degree in her hands with a major in government and not the slightest idea of going into prison work. She could possibly imagine herself in architecture, but anything to do with prisons, no, never. She went on to earn a master's degree in public administration, and then as so often happens, events, time, and circumstances conspired to put within reach an unexpected job opportunity, Records Manager at MCI-Walpole, Cedar Junction. She got the job and she was very good at it. She was on a career path that she never dreamt of- prison work.

That was about 28 years ago. She rose through the ranks working at many facilities in this state including MCI-Framingham as Superintendent. And perhaps along the way, she remembered what her parents always said to her and I'm paraphrasing it, "If you want it, go after it. You can achieve anything you want." She has become today a nationally recognized and respected leader in the field of corrections. In December 2003 she was appointed Deputy Commissioner by Governor Romney, and three months later was Commissioner of an agency that employs 5000 staff, operates 18 correctional facilities, manages a 400 million plus dollar budget, and has an inmate population of over 9000.

While the challenges of the position are sometimes daunting, the Commissioner has often expressed that she takes great pride in looking on her work as a special cause. She's committed to a culture that looks to the future and embraces change. She's on record as insisting on a transparent department open to the public and media committed to improving re-entry programs to keep the public safe. 97% of those incarcerated will some time some day return to society. And sometimes when a critic might criticize her for being so nice, she is quick to caution that person not to confuse niceness with weakness. I love the way she puts that. It gives me great pleasure to present Commissioner Dennehy. Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy - Thank you very much. You were paraphrasing what my parents said. My mother can be a little salty at times, "You go for it, girl, is what she would say." I'm very pleased to be here tonight and if I may, I'd like to start off and let you know who's with me tonight. I really feel strongly that what we're trying to do in the department is indeed not done by any one individual, and I would like you to have the opportunity to get a sense of who else is here. Some of them may be called upon to answer some of your questions later in the evening. If we may, I'd like to pass the microphone to Jim Bender, Deputy Commissioner. One of the first things one has to do as Commissioner is to select a number two, and I was thrilled to be able to extend that offer to Jim Bender. I've worked with Jim for many years.

Jim Bender, Deputy Commissioner -- It's a pleasure to be here tonight with you. I started my career at MCI-Plymouth back in 1977, and I have a little history at MCI-Concord. I was Deputy Superintendent at MCI-Concord in 1981, Deputy Superintendent of Classification of Treatment for two years, and then Deputy Superintendent of Operations for 1982-83. Then I moved in 1984 down to MCI-Plymouth. Peter Pepe, Superintendent, MCI_Concord - I've been at Concord since late January. I had a great experience with Concord Prison Outreach. As a matter of fact, I think one of the first memos I got was from Concord Prison Outreach welcoming me to Concord, and it was one of the first meetings I set up. I just want to say Concord Prison Outreach is one-stop shopping. You provide us with all the volunteers that we need, and it makes recruitment very easy. I appreciate it. I'll pass this on to my boss, John Marshall.

John Marshall, Assistant Deputy Commissioner for the Northern Sector -- I started with the department in 1978 as a correctional officer. I've held a variety of correctional officer positions and have been Superintendent of a number of different correctional facilities in my career. About four years ago I received this job. It's a great pleasure to be here. I've heard a lot about the program, and I know Peter is very enthusiastic about it, and it's nice to be here with you all tonight.

Veronica Madden, Associate Commissioner -- It's a pleasure for me to be here with you tonight. I recently joined the department in June of this year. I actually rejoined it. I was an attorney in the legal division from 1983 to 1990, and prior to that worked in the Department of Social Services for three years after I got out of law school. For the last seven years, I've been in the Department of Mental Health in the crime victim division. I have a broader background, and hopefully bring the ability to be able to integrate some of those different agencies and experiences into integration and re-entry and form the collaborations and partnerships that we believe will make it successful.

Lisa Jackson, Director of Re-entry -- I've worked for the department for about 16 1/2 years. I've met the members of the Concord Prison Outreach a few times. And, I have to say one thing that has impressed me so much about the group obviously besides the dedication to the work you've done, but also in your meetings, the questions that members of Concord Prison Outreach always ask are some of the best questions that I've heard from any volunteer group - truly informed questions. People really pay attention to what is happening and they are very knowledgeable, so we're grateful that you're part of the work we are doing in our agency.

Alison Hallett, Director of Program Services -- I actually started my career in 1987 at MCI_Concord I came up through the ranks of correctional program officer. One of my responsibilities now is volunteer services. So I want to start off my saying thank you. And I wish we had a Concord Prison Outreach in all areas where there are prisons. The dedication is amazing and we need more of it. Shelia Dupre, Executive Assistant - I joined the department in July of last summer as Kathleen's executive assistant, and prior to that I worked 16 years for the Hamden County Sheriff's Department. I look forward to being here tonight.

Kelly Nanpel, Chief of Constituency Services -- I began my career in 1988 at MCI-Framingham as a correctional officer. I had the pleasure of working with the Commissioner when she was Superintendent there, and joined her in central office about 7 years ago.

Commissioner Dennehy -- We really appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and to offer my impression of the critical challenges that are facing the Department of Corrections. As has already been indicated, I was asked to be Acting Commissioner almost a year ago on December 1, 2003. As I began the work of trying to effect staff change in the department, I made a commitment that any review of the department specifically be reviewed by the Governor's Commission on Corrections Reform and would be done in an open and transparent manner. We are committed to reviewing our culture, our philosophy, our policy, our procedures, and our management practices. And if I may, I'd like to outline for you some of the issues that I have identified as priorities for the system. But before that, I'd like to give you a thumbnail sketch of the DOC and the inmate demographics.

We employ about 5200 employees. That does not include contract positions. We have a total annual budget of about $427 million. We operate 18 correctional facilities, two of them are maximum security facilities, one is what we refer to as a high medium and that would be Old Colony Correctional in Bridgewater, and that also has a minimum component; nine medium security facilities, two of those also have minimum components attached. What most people don't recognize is we operate the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center. Our total inmate population in custody hovers around 9000. Actually that's very good news. We are one of the few states where the population has been dropping. We had a little bit of a spike this year in commitment rates, less than 2%, but for the last three or four years, our commitment rate has actually been dropping. That is not the norm throughout the country. That's the good news.

The bad news is when you look at the census data, there is some concern. When you juxtapose the crime pattern in juveniles in the state right now, there is reason to believe that we can extrapolate that data to anticipate that some of these kids are going to graduate into the adult system. So we have some concerns around the forecast for 2007 and 2008. And, we're hoping that the 2% increase this year is not an indication of trends to be borne out.

In my 28 years of service in the department, I've witnessed significant trends and every month there is a new emerging issue. Corrections as you know is the most rapidly growing public function in government. It continues to grow in not just the numbers of offenders involved, but the number of staff required to carry out the function and the volume of the tax dollars directed to its operations. And for those of you that are interested, I am calling your attention to this year's taxpayer's association report comparing the expenditures in the area of adult corrections to education. Needless to say in the Commonwealth for the first time, we are spending more on corrections than on education.

This is despite the fact that the crime rate, and more important to the public possibly, the likelihood of victimization has actually declined. The public fear of crime continues. Historically, officials have responded by increasing the spending on law enforcement, expanding definitions of what actually constitutes criminal activity, and enhancing the penalties that are attached to those crimes. I have to tell you, I mean this so sincerely, the issues that we as correctional administrators confront are truly some of the most complex confronted by public administrators. We deal with some of the most complex issues there are in the public sector.

There is much misunderstanding of correctional operations, the cost and the effectiveness. We bear much of the responsibility for that confusion because correctional administrators must educate the public, our elected officials, and sometimes even our own staff. Sometimes we have to educate our own staff.

The Governor's Commission on Correctional Reform truly believed that providing that first critical step in educating the public is guiding corrections into the future. For any of you who have heard Secretary Ed Flynn, Secretary of Health and Safety, speak, he is very fond of using the term "we need to be smart on crime". He is precisely right in challenging us to be just that. It is one thing to be tough on crime, but it is quite another to be smart. Those of us who labor in the field know it's actually harder to be smart on crime.

Corrections has traditionally emphasized those often repeated goals of punishment, incapacitation to terms, and rehabilitation. Over the years particularly for those of us who have worked in the system for a long period of time, there has been a shift in focus as to which of those goals warrant the highest priority. In turn, please appreciate that whatever those priorities are from a management administrative perspective, those priorities are going to be carried through to all of our policies, our procedures, the way we make budget decisions, our staffing allocations, which positions do we hire, which positions do we defer hiring, what research do we apply. How do we identify the effort that can advance that practice or do we even do both? As I said, it is one thing to be tough on crime, but it's a lot tougher to be smart on crime.

Over the recent years, corrections has had to react to that call to get tough on crime by offering few amenities, emphasizing public safety over everything else. I want to be very clear. I'm not diminishing the importance of public safety, that is essentially our mission. But this approach I believe has resulted in administrators taking very few risks to avoid problems and issues that are difficult to explain to the media. Now I don't have a background in public relations. I don't have a background in media relations, but after you've worked in the public sector at this level, you quickly learn you cannot educate the media in the middle of a crisis. It just can't be done. I say that descriptively; I don't say that critically. When there's fast breaking news, the way our society works with the rapid transmission of information it is not uncommon for an incident to occur and for me to get phone calls literally within 120 seconds of an incident. What are you doing about this? I frankly may have not even been fully briefed at that juncture. Because in the world of radio transmission, it's amazing what can be picked up quickly. But, that's not the time to be trying to educate the media or getting critical information out to the public around the operation of the prison system.

But I think this is sort of historical. I came to think of it as retrenchment. This sort of historical retrenchment and an aversion to taking risks results in very little advancement in the knowledge that that practice and the professional development that can, and I believe, should occur in corrections.

Now, I'm going to walk through sort of a laundry list of the issues that you'll see we deal with. These are not descriptive; it's a laundry list. These are the types of issues, the range of issues that we deal with, if not on a daily basis than on a weekly basis. There are cultural correctional issues and within that category I talk about vision, mission and culture, and we will come back to that, but the discussion about corrections has to start with vision in corrections and mission and culture.

Leadership--developing leaders. It is about doing the right thing, where management is about doing things the right way. There is a difference. But to those of us who work in corrections as we build our teams and we build our workforce and we focus on that leadership category, every day we wonder are we are providing the right training, the right pre-employment training, the right in-service training. I was recently asked what has been my proudest moment as I look back on my career, and it probably sounds not terribly sexy or interesting to some, but I reach back about 15 years ago when I was running the training academy when I took over that role. Training has come a long way in the last 15 years but when I took over training, it was very much the boot camp model, where it is in your face. And when you think about that is that how we want staff interacting with the population, really it's not the best training model, but that's the training model I inherited when I was the Director of the Training Academy. It occurred to me that we are placing all this emphasis on how fast people can run a mile, but we have no employment standards that require that you maintain your weight or your level of fitness. So we put you through this craziness and nonsense at hiring only to let you gain weight and get out of shape after you get out of basic training. All this focus was on getting your body in shape so that you could graduate and let your body get out of shape. But at the same time we were handling weapons with training with no psychological inquiry at all. I can remember going to the then corrections commissioner saying, "This really makes no sense. We're more worried about the physical health of the individuals before we have to run a mile but we're letting them down because we 're not doing any psychological pre-testing to insure that they don't have issues around power and control and anger management." So we instituted psychological tests.

I have to tell you at the height of our hiring and expansion during the 1980s, we were averaging for every two individuals we interviewed, one we turned away. Which I think is sort of a subtle reminder that prisons reflect back to society, that we very much turn the mirror and reflect back to society. Individuals coming in the door looking for employment, one of two could not pass the psych test.

But it's also important to do management training, to do leadership development. They are both important in terms of the context of culture. It is important to do research. It's important to put an emphasis on best practice, to let facts drive decisions. Not a headline, not a scare story but let the facts drive the decision. Accountability and visibility are other key things.

Then during the course of the rest of the day or week in the life of a warden she deals with other issues that are intrinsically specific to corrections.

Prison overcrowding. MCI-Framingham is the single most overcrowded facility in the Commonwealth, and that is because it serves all at once for those waiting trial locations for women, a jail facility for women, and a state prison for women. A male waiting for trial in the Commonwealth is held in his parents' county where he has easier access to family and attorneys. Not so with women. Many of the counties do not have that facility so by default the women go to Framingham. And that tells you that women represent the single fastest growing subsection of the inmate population and in particular women sex offenders. Something to think about.

Inmate demographics. What does the total population look like. Just yesterday the executive staff spent an entire day trying to brainstorm what our initial performance measures would be, and monitor the role of our strategic plan. What are we measuring? And we had a lengthy discussion about inmate demographics - the things we need to keep our finger on the pulse of, obviously not just the total number because of the overcrowding, but the number of males and females, the age of offenders, the length of the sentence. Increasingly we have offenders serving longer periods of time. The number of individuals coming into the system may be dropping off, but those that come into the system stay for a longer period of time.

The type of crime. Are we seeing an increase in sex offenders? Are we seeing an increase in lifers? In the period of time I've been in the department the number of lifers has doubled. On any given day, out of 9000 we have somewhere roughly around 2200 sex offenders. Granted much of this information is self-reported, but we estimate that between 85-90% of our offender population have histories of substance abuse. And the homeless. I won't say it's a huge issue in terms of aggregate numbers, but when it happens to just one individual, it's a huge public safety issue. We take an enormous risk to release an individual out of our incarcerated situation to our homeless situation. I've told this story before publicly but I recently ran into a gentleman who had done time in our system, and he was doing great. He had had a chronic homeless situation and he described it as "I burned every single bridge I ever had in life including the last one I slept under."But he meant that figuratively. Many folks', not an enormous amount, family will relay to the offender, "Yes, you can come home when you get out." And then we see the phenomenon as the date of release gets closer, they are revisiting that decision and then there's the shell-shock, "No, we've changed our mind." It's not uncommon for 24 or 48 hours before a release that we have to kick into high motion to try to find an appropriate housing situation. Let's be frank if that individual is a sex offender, that comes with enormous issues for a community.

Re-entry -- getting serious about focusing on re-entry. Never before in this country have we had as many individuals doing time, coming in for longer periods of time. And we have this phenomenon on the largest number of offenders being released to the streets of the United States than ever before in history. That creates a public safety issue. We have seen it in our own system. Given the construct of sentencing laws, mandatory terms, three strikes and you're out, and on and on, the restrictions that are applied to sentences often result in offenders having to be held at higher levels of custody because they are ineligible by statute to move to lower custody. We may deem them suitable based upon behavior and conduct, but the statute is holding them back from participating even on supervised work crews. I'm not talking about going out in the community unsupervised. Many in custody can't participate on work groups because of the mandatory terms. Which means we have record numbers of individuals coming out of our custody from higher security levels, from the Walpoles, the Concords, the Gardners, and coming out under no supervision. There has been an increased phenomenon of offenders opting to waive parole. That has consequences. And ironically it may seem counterintuitive, but if you look at the data around how offenders fare in the community particularly in the first year of post-release, there is a distinct phenomenon that those that are on parole supervision re-enter successfully at significantly higher rates than those that are discharged. You might at first glance think that is counterintuitive, but it makes perfect sense. They're being watched. Whereas many are being released without supervision going into the community in virtual anonymity. We deal with issues around do we know enough about sex offender treatment and what works.

Mental health -- the increasing incidence of mental health in our prison system. And I might add more so in our jail system. Again we reflect back to society. The incidence of HIV and Hepatitis B, and God help you if they're co-occurring because one step of medicine may actually produce a more adverse effect than the other could be.

We deal with issues around the Americans with Disabilities Act. We have deaf inmates in our custody, we have blind inmates and obesity actually is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a department, many years ago we went into court to file an amicus brief with the court because one morning I got up and read in the paper that a gentleman who weighed over 900 lbs was coming into the prison system. My concern was if he has a heart attack, how would we get him out? I'm not trying to be sarcastic, but the truth of the matter you would need a lift and the town ambulance could not handle this individual. So we went into court and begged the court, will you please keep him on home arrest? He was a cocaine dealer. I said to my husband, "I could tell he was a dealer, he clearly wasn't a user because he wouldn't have weighed 900 pounds if he were a user." But he was a dealer. We had create a special cell, have industries build a special bed, a special toilet and a special shower, and that takes time. That was probably the most extreme example, but those issues crop up regularly.

We need to know how to conduct investigations fairly, consistently and with integrity. We need to deal with this very sensitive topic of prison rape. Protective custody whether it is expected or unexpected, whether it is homicide or whether it is an elderly individual who is dying in the last stages of whatever the crime will be. I already mentioned the impact of sentencing. And I think we learned this past weekend prison can be a dangerous environment for all concerned. We deal with that as administrators. We deal with protective custody issues.

At the end of the day, we also have to have skills in the areas of administration. We need skills in managing a budget. We need to know a lot about human resources. I am the most sued person in the Commonwealth according to the Boston Globe. I think I'm up to 6700 and something. I'm not kidding. I am that frequently sued. I know there are some lawyer friends up there so please don't rush home to add to the file. But in the area of human resources, how do we hire, how do we fire, labor management relations, dealing with six or seven major unions at the table with different contracts and often times they have expired. How do we recruit? How do we retain? How do we promote? Then if we're lucky enough to have some construction money not necessarily for new cells but just for replacement of old cells, those of you who have a particular understanding of the system probably remember it wasn't that long ago that we put toilets in the Southeastern Correctional Center. We have to know something about management, we have to know something about construction, we have to know something about planning and maintenance, and how to oversee contractors. We have to know how to establish meaningful performance measures. We have to engage in strategic planning, and again my all time favorite, research. Then we have policy and philosophical correctional issues that we need to deal with -- the recent emphasis on punishment and what are the consequences? How do we manage risk, and how do we assess it? For those of you who know something about this body of research, there are ways to, with some degree of accuracy, predict the risk. Once you have that information, what is the system's response to that?

I've done some consulting work out in the State of Washington and it's rather interesting, the Washington legislature passed by a unanimous vote in both the House and the Senate and was signed by the Governor and that so rarely happens in governments that everybody is on board. I'm paraphrasing but that statute changed the fundamental mission of all criminal justice agencies in the State of Washington. Their mission became to reduce risk, reduce crime and violence, and victimization. And it ordered all agencies to work together to use one unified risk assessment instrument, and they developed one unified approach and work together. It is a significant issue in corrections, and we talk about this a lot in terms of how we educate the media, we cannot eliminate risk. I'm lying to you if I tell you we can eliminate risk. Our job is to reduce it and minimize it, but we will never eliminate it. We are dealing with a human element.

We also struggle with the types of amenities that should be available in prison. Recently some of you may have seen the front page article in the Boston Herald. I have enormous sympathy for the woman who recited on that case. I'll try not to use her name to respect her privacy, but she has been a rather outspoken victim over the years. She has very strong feelings, very strong feelings, about Christmas celebrations, participation in events. I respect her concerns but at the same time they have to be balanced with issues about religious freedom to celebrate certain holidays. We need to place more emphasis on family reintegration, the whole issue of intergenerational violence, intergenerational incarceration, the impact incarceration has on children, there is a lot to be considered by the administrator.

And what type of numbers of programs do we put online? There is a whole body of research out there referred to what works. And frankly, a lot doesn't. But we know what does, and those programs that do work and can impact the recarceration and reduce recarceration by as much as 20-25%. It doesn't sound like a lot but it costs $42,000-46,000 a year per incarcerant. It is money that can be better spent. And the role of other stake holders -- prison average, legislators, families, victims, interested citizens, attorneys, advocacy groups. These are all issues we need to deal with. Finally, this whole concept of managing the external environment. We may run prisons but we need to be cognizant of the needs to manage the external environment, again, educating the media, educating politicians, the legislature, our supervisors, other criminal justice agencies, law enforcement agencies. Just this morning I have been invited to meet with the district attorneys to talk about how we can work together more collaboratively with human service providers particularly in the area of leadership. I think it is safe to say when we look at these emerging issues and trends in corrections, it is clear that the leadership in corrections in the 21st century has to be a different modeL It just has to be a different model.

Historically, leadership has been associated with position, not necessarily the individual. Leaders were in the top positions who exercise power by giving orders and making decisions.That is referred to as transactional leadership. I do for you, you do for me. It focuses on short term objectives in exchange for staff. It very much drives the internal organization. It doesn't do much for the external. It's about traditional authority, it's about power, and it's about facts based on knowledge of one substantive area. And it works, but its works in a stable environment. We're not in a stable environment. The challenges that face our future in the department demands transformational leadership, which is based on principle not fact. And it has to begin with a vision and a set of values and must involve a broader vision. There is a vital need for all of us to develop -- all our employees to work together to adapt change and to deal with all these difficult issues that I have tried to lay before you tonight. Managing change is the single most difficult task a manager can engage in. It is especially true in a paramilitary, hierarchical organization like corrections. These are the priorities that I challenge the organization to adopt to change.

We re-established our vision statement. Our vision, our mission statement, and more importantly we instituted formality. These are not the be all, end all, but as I said if you're expecting a workforce to know where you're going you have to be able to define what that mission is. I might add much of this information is available on our website. But our vision statement is "we are professionals committed to an open and respectful organization dedicated to public safety, to a safe secure humane climate and successful community re-entry of our offender population." What was significant for us was one, this vision statement was practiced by a cross-section of individuals throughout the agency. Our focus was clearly on re-entry, shifting from that pure incarceration model to the re-entry model. Our mission statement now, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections statement, is to promote public safety by incarcerating offenders, providing opportunity for participation in elective programs to try to reduce citizenry risk.

I've worked in corrections for 28 years and there are some concepts that people in the field are very resistant to, signing on to reduce citizenry risk is one. Many will say it because they're interested in building a huge correctional industrial complex. I'm not quite that sophisticated. I think most of it is being held accountable if the citizen count doesn't come down. Because most of us recognize no one agency can impact that. To paraphrase, it really takes a community to reduce the prison count. One agency, one family, one offender, one Concord Prison outreach person can't do it all. But we recognize that in addition to clarifying the vision and the mission and focusing in on reducing the citizenry and re- entry that we needed to establish core values.

All of this has to happen in an environment, a supportive environment. I tell you right or wrong I made the choice not to attend that session because you learn that you can go into a meeting and you think they are pretty stupid ideas, but you look around at your team and you say that's a great idea. As recently as yesterday we often had conversations about the need to push back. I was concerned that we had a cross-section of employees from every level of the organization that they would take their lead from me. We really wanted this to come from the bottom up. The core values that were collected were responsibility, accountable for your actions, respectful, treating others like you would want to be treated, having the courage to do the right thing, caring about how you do your job and the impact it has on others. That was our first step. Our second step was to re-organize the key positions. Some of those folks are here tonight and I would like to give them an opportunity to speak in a minute. But the significant reorganization had to do with the creation of a tradition dedicated to re-entry and reintegration; elevating the Director of Re-entry position to a direct report to the Associate Commissioner; the creation of an Executive Director of Strategic Planning, the creation of an Office of Administrative Resolution to handle grievances and correspondence as we roll out the grievance system, the new inmate classification system, and a new investigation system. We are committed to have a fair consistent policy across the board.

I'd like to mention to you the recommendations from the Governor's Commission on Correctional Reform. They are listed on the website. But suffice to say recommendations for issues and they deal with issues such as how do we organize our budget, how do we spend our money, are we focusing in on re-entry, are we working with other agencies and partnerships to focus in on re-entry, are we managing our costs specifically in the area of industrial accident and again I won't read it to you because after chatting with a few of you many of you are already familiar with it. We in turn developed a strategic plan to roll out those recommendations. If we clearly embrace them, in our estimation they are all feasible. They are all doable in varying degrees. Many of them are dependent upon changes in sentencing, changes in policy in actions of the department that call for more collaboration. I'd like to have Veronica Madden speak on re-entry.

Veronica Madden -- I think Kathy touched on a lot of the larger themes that we're certainly looking forward to implementing my particular emphasis on re-entry. I started focusing on two particular things. One is changing the way we view re-entry within our system beginning from day one when the inmate first comes in. We already do testing when that inmate arrives to determine educational capacity and history, we do risk assessment, and we develop a plan. But we're returning to the old model, the case management model. We will actually assign inmates while they are in each facility to a particular corrections program officer who will monitor this plan to see if they do the GED, if they're involved in anger management or substance abuse program treatment, and one of the key cases to the Harshbarger report was that we need to make them accountable. We can't force inmates to work, we can't force inmates to have educational programming but what we need to do is to lead them to it, encourage and advocate with them for their best interests. That has to be done throughout their carceration as they need goals and goals change and we've begun to implement that.

Alisa Jackson is Director of Re-entry. She had a unit that was working outside the facility, a centralized unit that handled re-entry as people approached their discharge date and we've revisited that. All the staff has gone back into the facility and we're looking at that from a day one approach right through the system. We really believe that within monitoring with the case management theme we'll be able to bring people to higher levels of education and give them opportunities and that we'll have them address the issues they need to address with a long-term plan. As they move from facility to facility, they will have a corrections program officer that will be directing them. I really think this is key. As I said earlier, I worked for both the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Social Services, and I really think the key for people needing the services and a need for direction is to have that person who holds them accountable, encourages them, and brings them to next level. For a variety of reasons people end up in prisons. There are some things we can change and there may be some things we can't change, but they have to have opportunity and this opportunity has to be by somebody constantly prodding them, constantly encouraging them, and constantly holding them accountable. This accountability is really important for returns outside. I think that is one of the keys here that we can see some success in, is having somebody look towards their goals. When they're going out, let's have you go out with educational opportunities behind you, let's go out with skills, let's hope you look for a job, let's teach you how to open a bank account, let's teach you how to manage a budget. All these things that you do so well inside, we want to make sure everyone takes advantage of these opportunities.

The other key is that we have to deepen our program to capacity of availability. I think one of the important pieces is we have to do that yourselves. As Kathy mentioned earlier, we're looking to manage our own budget. The Harshbarger report clearly outlined we need to bring some of our costs in line to be able to deepen program to capacity. Right now we do have waiting lists for programs, we do have waiting lists for educational opportunities. We did hire 10 new teachers recently. We found money for some of the teachers that had been cut by the legislature in the budget of 2002. They will be both educational GED program and vocational programs right across the system.

The other side of this coin is collaboration with agencies on the outside. It's just as we're looking towards re-entry as being from the day of commitment on through to discharge within our system, we're also looking to involve other agencies to continue that continuum if you will. We're reaching out to probation right now. We'd like to have an opportunity to see sentencing reports, to have information from the court as inmates come into the system, we'd like to have a full picture from the very beginning of all the information that they had available. Frequently, there is a variety of information that is presented at sentencing that may or may not be available to us including risk assessment and risk reduction plan. So we're looking to do that. We're also looking at the other end. We're working with parole and probation and try to do a handoff for those inmates that are releasing back into the community with parole supervision or probation supervision. That collaboration is critical.

I think the ideal is the model that works best is when folks have some degree of supervision going back outside. If someone can continue to hold them accountable at least for a period of time while directing them to services, I think it is probably the most effective model. We have a great partnership right now with parole and we're having a greater impact on both those going under parole supervision but also offering volunteer services as well. We're also going to be working with probation. We're looking at about 48% of our folks going back out on probation supervision. We'd like to offer the information to them that we gave inside while the person is doing time. The conditions of probation are actually entered when the person is convicted. So the person coming to incarceration with specific conditions of probation already in effect, this is not reflected at what work may be done while someone is incarcerated. They may have achieved some of the goals or some of the conditions that the judge has imposed. Alternately, they may have not done that. They may have increased their violence, they may have not attended those things. We'd like to share that information with probation officers and we'd like probation officers to be able to utilize that in their supervision as they're moving forward. Perhaps conditions can be altered or changed and programs that are begun inside or skills that have been attained perhaps partially can be completed. We'd like to see that continuum.

We also need to work with community agencies. We've have tremendous success I think in the last couple of months with the Department of Medical Assistance instituting a plan which we will have a Mass health card available for each inmate discharging back into the community. A few days before discharge the inmates name and residence address will be delivered to the Department of Medical Assistance who will then send a Mass health card back to us. As Kathy mentioned, many of our folks come in with substance abuse needs, mental health needs, and some fairly serious medical needs as well. The ability to be able to go out with the Mass health card and to continue to get the appropriate treatment for mental health, substance abuse, and medical issues is really critical. My most recent job was with the Department of Mental Health. For those of us who know the system the Department offers services to the most seriously persistent mentally ill folks which leaves a fairly significant segment of the population that isn't completely debilitated by those rules but needs treatment, needs medication. The ability to have that health card and to keep people getting those services in the community will be really critical.

We're continuing to look at other agencies. We're working with community providers and developing ability to be able to find housing, to be able to continue treatment in the community. So the collaborations that we're formulating at this point we think will be really critical. The Lieutenant Governor has offered tremendous support for this initiative and we're really pleased that many agencies have been highlighting re-entry in their plan. A lot of the health and human service agencies, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Mental Health in particular have woven the Department of Corrections and parole board recommendations into their plan for re-entry services. This kind of cross-agency, cross-secretariat collaboration is very exciting for us.

I think we have a long way to go but we've come to a great start. The leadership we have in the Department of Corrections is really pushing in the appropriate direction. I think a lot of agencies have stepped up to the plate with the leadership. We're also looking forward to working with more volunteers. Alison Hallet is here tonight and she is looking to increase volunteers. We have two ways that we respect what you do and want to continue and deepen it. It really is a great achievement to be able to offer assistance to someone. You're helping yourself and you're helping someone else because as we tell everybody inside, good re-entry is good public safety. So we hope to continue to forge this partnership to work to achieve the results. I'm confident that if we continue to work together the way I've seen in the last few months, we really will be able to achieve some good things.

[Webmaster's note: a question and answer period follows the lecture, which is not transcribed in this transcript.]

Text mounted 14th April 2012; audio mounted 15th August 2012. RCWH.